UC Berkeley News


Daniel Boyarin will deliver Faculty Research Lecture
His April 1 talk on Plato and the Talmud is the second of two lectures in the 2008 series

| 19 March 2008

Tales of fat rabbis, among other crude anecdotes written into the Talmud, don't contradict its readings of Jewish law. But they do put them into question, according to Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture.

During the second 2008 Faculty Research Lecture, Boyarin will speak about how these earthy elements woven into the Talmud can be read as creating a dialogue.

Daniel Boyarin (Peg Skorpinski photo)

The hourlong lecture, "The Talmud as a Fat Rabbi: A Novel Approach," starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, in Chevron Auditorium in International House. "It's based on a comparative study of Plato and the Talmud," Boyarin says, and will incorporate close study of those narratives. The lecture will ultimately be published as his 11th book, Socrates and the Talmud.

Boyarin, who teaches in both the Near Eastern studies and rhetoric departments, is known for his relentless curiosity about the ways Judaism relates to contemporary cultural questions such as gender and homosexuality. He directs Berkeley's Center for the Study of Sexual Culture.

One of the preeminent scholars of the Talmud, Boyarin possesses an "intellectual restlessness," in the words of the Academic Senate committee that selected him to deliver this year's Faculty Research Lecture in the humanities. It led him from the study of language and method in the Talmud deep into an exploration of sexuality, identity, and ethnicity within the context of Jewish texts. His studies resulted in his 1993 book Carnal Israel.

Among his other books are Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man and Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Boyarin's lectures have taken up such subjects as "Torah Study as a System for the Exclusion of Women" and "On Stoves, Sex, and Slave Girls: Rabbinic Orthodoxy and the Definition of Jewish Identity."

More recently, Boyarin has immersed himself in Greek and Christian texts, becoming such an expert in the New Testament that Harvard Divinity School invited him as a visiting professor in the field.

In proposing Boyarin as a Faculty Research Lecturer, Professor of History David Henkin wrote that "his capacity for intellectual self-invention . never seems to end." Every few years, Henkin added, Boyarin comes out with "another major publication in which [he] . engages in new research, asks new questions, and radically rethinks earlier positions."

Boyarin's talk is the second of two Faculty Research Lectures for 2008. Jean M.J. Fréchet, professor of chemical engineering, delivered the year's first lecture earlier this month on "The Chemistry Behind Polymers: From Technology to Medicine."

More information about the Faculty Research Lectures can be found at www.urel.berkeley.edu/faculty.

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